Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz, 22, attended the most recent State of the Union address, and was disappointed by President Obama’s lack of raising awareness for campus rape.
Sulkowicz was first seen in the news last year when she was photographed carrying a dorm room mattress around campus. This was part of her visual arts thesis project, which was called, “Carry That Weight.” Sulkowicz lugged around the mattress as a symbol of the rape she experienced in 2012, as well as the countless rapes that occur on campus that are never fully and more importantly properly investigated. She stated that she would stop carrying around the mattress once her attacker was expelled or had left the university. She ended up carrying the mattress across the stage as both she and her attacker graduated.
Sulkowicz was invited to the SUTO meeting and accompanied Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), who is the co-founder of the Campus Safety and Accountability Act. Both Sulkowicz and Gillibrand were waiting for the President to address campus sexual assault in his speech, but he never really did. Gillbrand had mentioned to the New York Times that, “I hope the President will seize this opportunity to shine a national spotlight on the need to flip the incentives that currently reward colleges for sweeping sexual assaults under the rug.” While the act was not as recognized as the women had hoped for, Sulkowicz told The Daily Intelligencer, “I think a good place to start is passing the campus accountability bill. I think every part of it is really important.”
There have been two other women that have accused the same man of attacking them, and their cases were also dismissed by the university. It was found that the man was, “not responsible.” Interestingly, the accused man has spoken out and claims his innocence, stating that his encounters with the women were completely consensual. Columbia University has been criticized by the accused, the victim, and the parents of the both students in how they handled the situation. The university has declined to comment or to be interviewed several times about the issue.
On another note, Sulkowicz’s attention-grabbing and unique approach to bringing awareness to campus rape garnered much praise and attention from art critics. Vulture Magazine ranked her presentation #1 in their, “The 19 Best Art Shows of 2014,” article. They called her performance “powerful” in how it highlights the issue of campus rape while Columbia University is turning a “blind eye.” The piece was praised in having, “pure radicability,” and while it did not bring justice for Sulkowicz, at least it brought attention to the, “plight of women.”